Provide thorough information about inoculations for small children

Inoculations of infants and toddlers against the novel coronavirus have begun. It is important for the central and local governments to make efforts to provide information so that parents can make appropriate decisions.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has made it mandatory to strive to get children age 4 or younger vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the eighth wave of infections expected to hit this winter. Vaccinations for this age group began in late October across the nation, but they are said to have had a slow start.

The vaccination of children ages 5 to 11, which began in February, has also been sluggish, with an inoculation rate of just 20%. Concerns about side effects and doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccine seem to have made parents reluctant to get their children vaccinated. There may be a deep-seated belief that even if children become infected, they will experience only minor symptoms prior to recovery.

The central and local governments should respond to questions from parents and thoroughly explain what to do in the event of side effects.

During the sixth and seventh waves, when the highly infectious omicron variant was prevalent, people under 10 years of age accounted for the same percentage of infected people as other age groups. Children often spend time in group settings at schools and day care centers — a factor that makes them susceptible to infection.

Amid the unprecedented increase in infections this summer, a notable number of children were transported to emergency rooms with febrile seizures, dehydration and other symptoms. Pediatric beds were limited, and the situation became so severe that it was difficult to find places where children could be hospitalized.

Vigilance is also required regarding seasonal influenza — which, it is feared, may spread simultaneously with the novel coronavirus — as some children may develop febrile seizures or acute encephalopathy.

The vaccines for infants and toddlers are conventional vaccines rather than versions tailored to the omicron variant. However, clinical trials have shown they are effective in preventing recipients from developing symptoms from infection with the omicron variant.

Side effects such as fever tended to be less common than in adults, and most patients recovered with only mild symptoms. The Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, which reviewed the vaccines for approval, says that “no serious safety concerns have been identified at this point in time.”

Pediatric medical experts should also explain how the effectiveness and risks should be evaluated and actively disseminate the information.

Many different vaccines must be administered to infants and toddlers, and adding COVID-19 makes it difficult to set up a schedule for inoculations. This is another factor that causes concern among parents. It would be reassuring to devise a system in which they can consult with a pediatrician they are familiar with.

Unlike vaccinations for adults, inoculations for infants and toddlers are administered in small doses on three separate occasions. Some parents may have to take time off work on these occasions. Workplaces will also need to give due consideration to this issue. Members of society as a whole are urged to be aware about how to protect small children.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 6, 2022)